Foster Carers Form First Ever Trade Union

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The Law Of... fighting for workers' rights

A group of foster care workers have come together and formed the first ever trade union dedicated to their profession. Deana Bates, an Employment Law Solicitor at Simpson Millar, examines this historic event and discusses what issues currently face foster carers across the UK.

The Law Of... fighting for workers' rights

Both a worthy and essential profession, foster caring has, until now, lacked representation. This has meant that the people looking after some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children in society are not afforded the same employment rights that trade union activity has secured for the rest of us.

No Basic Rights

Despite there being around 55,000 UK households providing this valuable service, they are not regarded as employees and are paid 'allowances' to cover costs, along with 'fees' for the actual work, which are based upon their level of experience and how long the child is placed with them. The lack of employee status means foster carers aren't entitled to the same basic rights and safeguards the rest of take for granted, such as paid holidays, pensions and periods of notice.

It also means they don't get the minimum wage, with cuts to local authority budgets – councils being the primary provider of fostering work – meaning that a new carer can receive the equivalent of £1.50 per hour for a 'job' they are committed to 24/7.

Under-represented and Vulnerable Workers

The decision to unionise was made at a meeting of 60 currently active and former foster carers, attended and supported by the Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell. The gathering was organised by the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain, an association dedicated to fighting for the rights of some of the UK's most under-represented and vulnerable workers, with 56 of the attendees voting to form the first union of its kind.

Deana comments:

"The foster caring profession has long been subject to different rules to everybody else. This is because there is no employer/employee relationship to speak of, with carers being classed as self-employed."

"Self-employment offers little protection when compared to the rights of employees, and one of the chief concerns of foster carers has been the fact they have no legal right to due process. This has allowed situations to arise where a child has been removed from care without any prior consultation with the foster carer, or because of an accusation they have no opportunity to defend themselves against."

"There have also been cases where foster carers have been 'de-registered' from the local authority, preventing them from receiving placements, which, due to the difficulty they will then have signing on with another council, is tantamount to a blacklist – the unjustified results of which have been seen in other industries, particularly construction."

"Although this changes nothing so far as the immediate future is concerned, it is a step in the right direction. It is only through the hard fought battles of trade unions that the rest of us enjoy the rights at work we do today."


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